Ensuring Humanity’s Legacy
by Richard Detweiler
Staff-free Libraries: Singapore’s Experiment in “Cybrarianship”
by Anna Lasota, Rovelstad Fellow
I AM PLEASED and honored to be writing you as interim president of CLIR. In my years of work with Deanna Marcum on the Frye Leadership Institute, I have acquired a deep appreciation for what this organization does. I have also become more involved in its work. Indeed, I was already planning to come to CLIR this year as a fellow to examine the opportunities that technology brings to liberal arts colleges. I look forward to contributing to the issues being examined and acted upon by this organization.
The challenges and opportunities facing libraries, scholars, and others engaged in learned activities are part of a whole. Eminent historians of an earlier era, Will and Ariel Durant, once wrote in The Lessons of History:
Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again. . . . If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and pass it on to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.
This is what we (women and men) are doing today at CLIR—taking steps to ensure that humanity’s “inexhaustible legacy” is passed on to the future. To accomplish this, we must attend to the interrelated whole of learned activity.
As a former college president, I am aware that all organizations operating within this interrelated whole are having to re-examine what they do and how they do it. Financial stresses have put particular pressure on libraries, which face rising costs for technology, digital holdings, and print at a time when their budgets are being reduced.
Serious though these financial stresses are, it would be a mistake to believe that the challenges facing libraries will be resolved simply by an upturn in the economy. New forms of education (e.g., the for-profit and the distance-education sectors) are growing rapidly, students are expecting new or different approaches to education and to the other services we provide, and members of the U.S. Congress, as well as many state legislators, continue to enact increasingly intrusive regulations that have an impact on the cost of our operations as well as on the way in which we operate and on the outcomes of the work that we do. All these factors, added to the particular challenges of our increasingly digital way of operating, are today’s realities.
In addressing these new realities, we have an opportunity to become stronger, more responsive institutions. Campus leaders, faculty members, library staff, and information technologists will need to work together as never before to rethink the possibilities for institutions that support learning, teaching, and research. Implementing fundamental change, even incrementally, will require leadership and partnerships that can survive—better yet, thrive—amid change. Thinking about change, and how to build the leadership and partnerships needed to be its effective stewards, is what most excites me about the months ahead at CLIR.
I feel fortunate to be part of an organization that is focused on the future—one whose work has been both visionary and practical. CLIR is addressing fundamental questions, such as “What will the library of the twenty-first century be?” and “How must the scholarly enterprise change as scholarly resources and modes of publication become increasingly digital?” I look forward to working with staff, sponsors, funding institutions, and colleague organizations as we work to ensure that humanity’s inexhaustible legacy is passed on to the future.
TRADITIONALLY, THE ACADEMIC library has been viewed—and planned for—as a place where information is held and managed, and where staff help give access to that information. The past decade has seen two developments that challenge planners to think of the library as serving a much broader educational role.
First, rapid changes in technology, especially the growth of the World Wide Web, have made it possible to use information in virtual, as well as physical, space. The second development is a change in how students learn. Collaborative work has become common, and the importance of social space for learning and teaching has become more fully appreciated.
How were these two developments reflected in academic library planning in the last decade? Scott Bennett, university librarian emeritus at Yale, addresses this question in a study entitled Libraries Designed for Learning. The author conducted a Web-based survey of more than 380 institutions that had renovated or built new libraries between 1992 and 2002, representing an investment of $4.5 billion. He also conducted phone interviews with 31 library directors and chief academic officers to understand better the planning and motivations that influenced library renovation.
Motivators for Library Redesign
The need to create space for growing collections was the single strongest motivator for library renovation and construction in the 1990s. In the interviews, several library directors voiced their belief that the growth of e-journals and, in the more distant future, e-books, will diminish the importance of this traditional reason for expansion.
Operational needs beyond shelving—for example, electronic classrooms, correcting dysfunctional aspects of existing space, and enhanced space for circulation, interlibrary loan, and special collections—were also strong motivators for redesign. Some libraries made space for nonlibrary operations, such as media services, academic computing services, centers for teaching and learning, and student writing centers. However, interviews with library directors indicated that decisions to place these functions in library buildings were “most often simply pragmatic—i.e., library space existed or could be created for these units—rather than a product of strategic collaboration between such units and the library.”
The creation of flexible space was an important characteristic of library design. While creating flexible space is initially more expensive than creating fixed space, it appears to be a good long-term investment: 61 percent of the survey respondents reported having to make further space changes soon after completing their projects.
Meeting Students’ Need for Learning Spaces
During the 1990s, many planners recognized the importance of social study space in libraries: the second strongest motivator for building projects was the need to provide new types of student study space. The result was the allocation of more space for group study, food services, and socializing. Many libraries are discovering that there is no contradiction in thinking of the library as a place for socializing as well as for study.
In addition to exploring what prompted library investments, Bennett sought to understand how decisions were made and who was involved. Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that library staff, especially directors, took primary ownership of library planning. Chief academic officers, while responsible for approving projects and allocating funds, typically did not become deeply involved with space planning. Faculty and students were usually consulted in planning, but typically did not stay involved throughout the process. Librarians “observe campus teaching and learning behaviors,” closely, but, Bennett writes, did not pursue genuinely collaborative planning methods. In fact, most planning was based on an assessment of library operations, without any systematic assessment of the modes of student learning and of faculty teaching.
Bennett asks, “Was library space planning in the 1990s primarily extrapolating on past experience, in the belief that the only prediction about the future that could confidently be made was that it would look rather like the past? Or was planning in some way attempting to interpolate a significantly different vision of the future and hoping to bring that future into being through planning decisions?” He concludes that even as planners responded to a need for more social space, and as buildings were reconceived to make better use of information technology, the planning process remained “primarily extrapolative, responding strongly to traditional needs and ideas of library service.”
Toward a “Learning Commons”
In Bennett’s view, a different vision of the future is necessary if libraries are to achieve their potential as spaces for teaching and learning. The most important contribution that library space might make to the educational mission of colleges and universities would flow from a better understanding of how students learn and how faculty teach, and from designs consciously meant to support those activities. As an example, he describes the concept of a learning commons, which brings people together around shared learning tasks. “The core activity of a learning commons would not be the manipulation and mastery of information . . . but the collaborative learning by which students turn information into knowledge and sometimes into wisdom.”
The greatest challenge in designing a learning commons is to ensure it is conceptually “owned” by learners, rather than by librarians or teachers. “A learning commons must accommodate frequently changing learning tasks that students define for themselves, not information-management tasks defined and taught by library or academic computing staff.” Achieving the full educational potential of library space will, then, require not only “librarians who think differently” but also a planning process with the following characteristics:
- Library design should not be dominated by a concern for information resources and their delivery. It should “incorporate a deeper understanding of the independent, active learning behaviors of students and the teaching strategies of faculty meant to support those behaviors.”
- Broader understanding of the library as education space will not be well served if librarians continue to engage with students primarily as consumers of library services and with faculty principally as power brokers in campus politics. The goal should be to create planning partnerships with faculty and students that are shaped around substantive questions of teaching and learning.
Would systematically built and applied knowledge of the modes of student learning and faculty teaching produce appreciably different results in library design? The author says that it is not yet possible to answer this question. However, he maintains that it is “hard to see other means by which library space can be brought so strongly into line with an institution’s fundamental learning and teaching missions.”
Libraries Designed For Learning will be available at https://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub122abst.html in late October. It includes extensive survey data and a literature review.
THE SMART CAPE Access Project of Cape Town, South Africa, has received the 2003 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award for its exceptional efforts to provide free access to computers and the Internet to the people of Cape Town. Smart Cape received the US $1-million monetary award to replicate the pilot project in all 107 public libraries in Cape Town.
The award was announced August 6 at the annual International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ World Library and Information Congress in Berlin.
The project began in 2002, when Smart Cape installed 30 computers in 6 libraries. Since that time, the computers have attracted 5,600 new users and an average of 7,000 people each month. Planners noted that when the project began, more than 60 percent of the residents of this city had never used a computer. Implemented by the city’s Directorate for Information Technology, Smart Cape is the first project in Cape Town to provide no-cost computer and Internet access to people in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“The Smart Cape Access Project has helped connect the people of Cape Town with the world—putting critical information about government services, health, and education at their fingertips,” said Nomaindia Mfeketo, executive mayor, City of Cape Town. “This award will help us expand our efforts and bring the project to the remaining 101 libraries in the city.”
Smart Cape is a partnership between the local government, public libraries, and private enterprise. To get the pilot effort under way, the City of Cape Town supplied refurbished computers, and Xerox and CableCom Ltd. donated printers and network cables. The libraries that participated in the pilot project were Brooklyn, Delft Main, Grassy Park, Guguletu, Hector Peterson-Lwandle, and Wesfleur-Atlantis. More information on Smart Cape is available at http://www.capetown.org.za/smartcape. CLIR, which administers the Access to Learning Award, will publish a report on Smart Cape in December.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2004 award. Information is available at https://www.clir.org/fellowships/gates/gates.html .
A NEW REPORT from CLIR summarizes and analyzes more than 200 recent research publications that focus on the use of electronic library resources. The report, Use and Users of Electronic Library Resources, was written by Carol Tenopir, professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with the assistance of Brenda Hitchcock and Ashley Pillow, graduate students in the School of Information Sciences.
The report provides information that librarians can use in making decisions about collections, services, and product design. The author reviews publications based on eight major ongoing studies and roughly 100 smaller studies. All the publications cited were published since 1985.
The studies used a variety of research methods. Some surveys or interviews asked questions about preference, including how users feel about the library or about specific media; others asked questions that provide information on user behavior. Studies based on observations, experiments, and logs also show what users do, but they do not always reveal user preferences or motivations. Ms. Tenopir makes it clear that each method elicits different conclusions; only when the approaches are taken together does one get a full picture of what users actually do, why they do it, what they would prefer, and what they are likely to do in the future.
On the basis of her analyses, the author makes several conclusions that shed light on user behavior with electronic resources. They include the following:
- Both faculty and students use and like electronic resources, and most readily adopt them if they perceive the sources as convenient and relevant, and if they can easily be integrated into their natural workflow.
- Experts in different subject disciplines have different usage patterns and preferences for print or electronic resources. There is no single “right” solution for services or system design for every discipline.
- Print is still used for some reading and is part of research in almost every discipline. It is considered important in certain disciplines, especially in the humanities.
- Print remains the most popular medium for books; e-book use is still in the very early stages.
- Most e-journal users still print out articles that they believe are useful—a printing format such as PDF is popular.
- Subject experts use hyperlinks to view related articles; students’ use of hyperlinks is less well understood.
- Browsing a small number of core journals (in print or electronic form) is important, especially for subject experts who want to keep abreast of the literature. Searching by topic in an article database is important for all other purposes.
- Users will read articles from a wide variety of journal titles and sources if they are available. Most of the readings, however, come from relatively few journals.
- Personal subscriptions to journals continue to decrease. Users are relying more and more on electronic subscriptions that are subsidized by the library and available on the Internet.
- Articles within their first year of publication represent most journal article readings; however, older materials still constitute a sizeable minority of such readings.
- College and high school students use the Internet more than they use the physical library for research. Many students believe they are more expert at searching than are their teachers.
- Students exercise some quality judgments about materials they retrieve from the Internet, but these judgments do not necessarily match those of faculty members.
While there is no “typical user” for whom a single system design or collection decisions can be made, users can be segmented into groups that display similar preferences and patterns of use. For example, high school students and undergraduate students turn first to the Web for research but will change behaviors if they are given a specific assignment or are asked to use a particular resource. Graduate students are heavy and cyclical users of electronic journals, especially for research. Researchers seek out peer-reviewed journals that are essential to their work, regardless of convenience.
Among subject experts, behavior varies according to discipline. Scientists and business faculty members were early adopters of electronic journals and read from a variety of full-text databases and e-journals; some fields of science use many sources to get articles, including e-print servers. Social scientists and humanists use both electronic resources and print, but they rely more on books than do experts in other fields.
The report makes brief note of usage trends that emerge with respect to type of institution or workplace, task, age, and gender.
An extensive bibliography of user studies is provided at the end of the report. The list includes several resources that provide advice for institutions conducting their own studies.
Use and Users of Electronic Library Resources is available in electronic form only. It may be accessed free of charge at www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub120abst.html.
CLIR IS ACCEPTING applications for the Mellon Fellowship Program for Dissertation Research in the Humanities in Original Sources.
CLIR will award about 10 fellowships to support dissertation research in original source material for periods of up to 12 months. Each fellowship will carry a stipend of up to $20,000. Applicants must be enrolled in a doctoral program in a graduate school in the United States. They must be ready to start dissertation research between June 1 and September 1, 2004, and their dissertation proposals must have been accepted at least six months before the starting date of the fellowship. Fellows must have completed all other doctoral requirements before their dissertation research begins.
More information on eligibility and application forms is available at https://www.clir.org/fellowships/mellon/mellon.html. Information may also be requested from CLIR by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (202) 939-4750, or by mail at CLIR, 1755 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20036.
Applications must be postmarked by November 14, 2003 (November 1, 2003, if mailed from outside the United States). Fellowship recipients’ names will be announced by April 1, 2004.
Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs, by Fred Byers, National Institute of Standards and Technology. A practical guide to the care, handling, and long-term storage of optical discs.
Libraries Designed for Learning, by Scott Bennett, university librarian emeritus, Yale University.
Business Planning for Cultural Heritage Institutions, by Liz Bishoff, Colorado Digitization Program, and Nancy Allen, University of Denver. A framework and resource guide to assist cutural heritage instituions with business planning for sustainability of digital asset management programs.
COULD “do-it-yourself” libraries replace existing institutions and librarians? What are the implications of such a model on the quality of services, not to mention community-specific needs? Do the cost benefits outweigh the absence of social interaction?
Provocative questions such as these were raised at the August 2003 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ World Library and Information Congress in Berlin, during a discussion of the world’s first Totally Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Library. The library opened last year in Singapore. The site is the SengKang Community Library, which is located in a shopping mall.
Ngian Lek Choh, assistant chief executive of operations for Singapore’s National Library Board, explained that the intent was to create a library with no on-site staff in order to expand services beyond the mainstream libraries on weekends and evenings and to reach heavily frequented areas.
DIY provides self-service book checkout, around-the-clock book return using a radio-frequency identification tagging system, new-patron registration, online checking of loan records, and online fee payments using a national cash card. But the most unusual aspect of the DIY is “cybrarian,” a remote-inquiry service where patrons use kiosks equipped with PCs and phone-based facilities to access an off-site librarian.
The library offers three levels of service. The first, concierge, is a video-conferenced, real-time contact that answers questions about library operations and policy. The second level, which is also the most widely used, provides responses to basic reference questions. An average transaction lasts two to three minutes. Level three addresses advanced or subject area-specific searches. These searches are often offered in packages for a fee.
Software used in most virtual reference services creates a queue of patron inquiries with which librarians on duty deal simultaneously. The cybrarian service, by contrast, provides one-on-one, direct connection with a librarian. This gives the librarian the advantage of being able to focus on only one question at a time. A drawback to this system, however, is that the librarian is unaware of the number, nature, or difficulty of pending questions. This may affect the quality of reference service, especially the length of time a patron must wait to ask a question.
Library shelving is marked precisely, so the off-site librarian can use a map of the layout to help direct patrons to items. The service originally offered co-browsing and videoconferencing, but when patrons said they would prefer not to see their own faces, these features were removed. There are no printers or text overlay feature, where words spoken over the phone would be typed on the screen and be visible to the patron and librarian. Instead, patrons must write down answers while listening to the librarian over the phone. Experience has shown that this may result in mistakes, and printers may be installed in the future.
The central location of the kiosks and the layout of library shelving units help avoid problems with nuisance inquiries or security issues. As an additional preventive measure, the library has installed numerous cameras that users can see. Some people might find this arrangement intimidating; they may feel it is not conducive to human interaction and other community-oriented and social functions of the typical public library.
According to Ngian Lek Choh, one goal of DIY was to strike a balance between users who prefer a more traditional type of interaction and those who prefer a more indirect approach. The latter group includes younger, computer-savvy users. Less-personalized services are also appreciated in situations where content-sensitive questions may discourage face-to-face inquiries. Some of the larger libraries in Singapore use both options.
Preliminary data and survey results indicate that the DIY experiment has been well received. On the first day alone, more than 12,000 people visited the library, about 14,000 items were loaned, and 255 inquiries were made using the cybrarian service. DIY usage to date is comparable to that of other libraries in the system.
For more information on the Do-it-Yourself Library, go to http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/papers/050e-Ngian-Lek-Choh.pdf.
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The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grew out of the 1997 merger of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources. CLIR identifies the critical issues that affect the welfare and prospects of libraries and archives and the constituencies they serve, convenes individuals and organizations in the best position to engage these issues and respond to them, and encourages institutions to work collaboratively to achieve and manage change.